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US-Russia tensions heightened
Western hypocrisy over 'democracy' utilised by Putin
NOT SINCE the height of the cold war have tensions between Russia and the western imperialist powers been so tense. The US plan to use Polish and Czech territory as bases for elements of its anti-missile defence system (supposedly to protect the west from missiles launched by 'rogue' states such as Iran and North Korea) brought the response from Russian president Vladimir Putin that Russia would aim rockets at Europe. His threat was backed by a test-firing of an anti-ballistic rocket, widely covered by Russian TV news broadcasts.
Rob Jones, CWI, Moscow
This dispute, which threatened to dominate the G8 summit, was only partially diffused by Putin's offer to Bush to use the anti-missile facilities once built as part of the Soviet defence system but now based in Azerbaijan, as part of the shield.
But the underlying tensions continue to grow. The struggle between the different imperialist powers for political and economic influence, whether they be the US, EU or Russian, is becoming more bitter.
In April, the decision of the Estonian government to move a statue of Soviet Army soldiers led to serious rioting in the capital, Tallinn, in which one Russian was killed. In response, the Kremlin whipped up an anti-Estonian mood in Moscow with a pro-Kremlin youth group effectively laying siege to the Estonian embassy.
In the aftermath of the G8, following Bush's 'superstar' tour of Albania during which he expressed support for Kosovan independence, the Kremlin has stepped up its opposition to such plans, fearing that a precedent would be set that would encourage the numerous breakaway regions in the former USSR to step up their efforts to gain international recognition.
These conflicts are in reality acting as proxies for even more serious conflicts of interest. Russia and the US have already been fundamentally opposed to each other over Iraq, they disagree on the Middle East and over Iran.
To some degree, this reflects the continuation of the alliances forged during the cold war. It also indicates the strengthening of an unofficial alliance between governments such as those of China, Iran, Venezuela and Bolivia and, of course, Russia, who have been increasingly open in their opposition to the dominance of the world by US imperialism.
As a result, Putin used last weekend's St Petersburg Economic Forum to complain that existing organisations (such as the World Bank) are "not doing a good job regulating global economic relations", declaring that "the interests of stable economic development would be best served by a new architecture of international economic relations based on trust and mutually beneficial integration."
The Kremlin is becoming increasingly aggressive in its defence of the economic interests of Russian capitalism. Russia is aggressively exporting technology for nuclear energy, including to Iran. India has also recently signed a contract for Russia to build four new atomic power stations.
On top of this, Russia is increasingly challenging US dominance of the international arms trade. It has already displaced the UK and France at the top of the league table of arms exporters and, for several key products, has overtaken the US.
And naturally, oil and gas play a role. Russia (which is the world's largest natural gas producer and vies with Saudi Arabia for first place as crude oil producer), is not only involved in a bitter struggle with the US over pipeline construction but uses its control over oil and gas supplies to exploit neighbouring governments.
Most spectacularly this happened in early 2006, when the Ukraine had its supplies cut until it agreed to pay the market price for supplies. This caused supply cuts in many countries in Western Europe.
More recently, Russia has informed the government of Belarus that it too has to pay market prices. As a result Belarus's President Lukoshenko has announced that all social benefits will no longer be paid! On top of this, western energy transnationals such as Shell and BP are being squeezed out of the Russian oil industry.
Against the background of continuing economic growth, Putin is able to use international developments to present an image at home of a strong defender of Russia's interests. With parliamentary and presidential elections due, the Kremlin is using what excuses it can to play the Russian chauvinist card to bolster support for its candidates. It uses the hypocrisy of western leaders, who have suddenly become concerned at the lack of democracy, to strengthen its case.
When Angela Merkel, at the recent EU-Russia summit held in Samara, publicly criticised Putin for arresting participants in an anti-summit protest, this was shown on Russian TV immediately preceeding pictures of the German police attacking anti-G8 summit protesters.
Whilst US leaders complain about the increasingly undemocratic methods used in Russia, they welcomed constitutional changes in Kazakhstan that enable the current President Nazarbayev to be President for life, not least because he has been more friendly to US oil companies.
Western powers, despite their rhetoric about democracy are not interested in defending democratic rights as long as their economic interests are served.
This was again demonstrated at the Economic Forum in St Petersburg. This was attended by a record number of western companies who expressed their determination, according to the Financial Times, "to step up investment in Russia, despite warnings from political leaders that faltering relations with the west could harm Russia's investment prospects".
The head of Coca Cola, for example, commented that the company planned to double its investment in the country. The company has recently used Russia's extremely anti-worker labour code to justify the low wages it pays.
Long gone are the days when many Russians looked on the west as a haven of economic prosperity and democracy.
Unfortunately, given the lack of a mass left alternative, the Kremlin has been able to use anti-western rhetoric in its own interests. How long that can last depends on how long it takes to build a genuine workers' alternative.
In The Socialist 14 June 2007:
Unison national conference
What we think
Socialist Party NHS campaign
War and terrorism
G8 Summit protests
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis